West Dean College

Pandemic limitations open world of new opportunities for West Dean College conservation students

Image: © West Dean College

Despite initial fears that the pandemic may hamper the learning experience of MA Conservation Studies students at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, creative responses and new partnerships helped deliver a curriculum like no other.

When Covid-19 first took hold on UK shores there was an immediate pause for MA Conservation Studies students’ external placements, with the West Sussex education institution having to consider whether alternative arrangements were feasible.

The answer was a resounding yes, with a first-of-its-kind partnership speedily established with New York’s Corning Museum of Glass to deliver five-week online work placements for students specialising in Ceramics and Related Materials.

Presentations, assignments, group discussions, tasks and advice were all shared regularly via a video call service, offering insights into professional practice, skills development and job roles within the museum. This was in addition to one-to-one tutorials with members of the Corning Museum team.

“It was a great privilege that our students at West Dean College were chosen as a pilot for the museum’s online placement scheme instigated by the pandemic,” notes Lorna Calcutt, subject tutor, Ceramics and Related Materials, at West Dean College.

“We are extremely grateful to the staff and colleagues at The Corning Museum of Glass for their time, commitment and enthusiasm to support our students so effectively on this placement.”

© West Dean College

Another way in which West Dean sought to maximise the unique circumstances created by the pandemic was to offer students specialising in Books, Ceramics and Metals the chance to undertake placements at the college itself. This provided unparalleled access to collections due to the restrictions in place.

Students worked closely with the Collections team on tasks such as condition reporting, surveying, documenting and cataloguing items.

Books students conducted a detailed survey of the college’s William Beckford Book Collection, discussing everything from bindings to the ethics of collecting. They then went on to carry out a sample survey of the House Collection, which includes several rare 16th century editions.

“While the pandemic situation impeded our original plan to do external work placements, it offers us a chance to have a peek into the fantastic Collection at the college, which has such great educational value, and is yet to be further explored,” says Rose Zhou, an MA Conservation Studies student at West Dean.

“Although the work placement started tentatively, it really benefited me with experiences that I would otherwise not acquire. I really appreciated our Collections team, who spared no effort to make this experience worthwhile for us.”